Readability ranks!

Does it pay off to write a text that is nice and easy to read? Will readable content lead to higher rankings and more traffic? Is readability a ‘ranking factor’? At Yoast, we are strong believers in writing texts that are nice and easy to read. We’ve developed an entire tool to help people write readable texts. We truly believe that readability ranks. Writing readable texts will lead to higher rankings and more traffic.

So why is readability becoming more important? I’ll discuss two reasons why we believe readability is of increasing importance for SEO. In our view, it’ll become essential for every copywriter. The first reason why readability will gain importance is because of the growth of and focus on voice search. The second reason is because of the fact the algorithm of Google is getting better and more ‘human-like’.

Voice search becomes more dominant

Although few people use voice search, Google (and other search engines) are focused on voice. They present their results in a voice-like matter; they rank their results in a voice-like matter. The very fact that search engines want voice search to be the next big thing, makes readability so important. To understand the importance for readability in voice search, look at this video:

People searching for information with voice search could end up listening to a rather long piece of information. In the example in the video above, the search result consists of an entire paragraph. Imagine such a paragraph consisting of long sentences and containing lots of difficult words. The voice result will become impossible to understand. Google will never rank such an impossible result. Neither in the voice results, nor in the normal results.

Google will prefer understandable content, because Google is focused on voice search. Google wants voice search to become the next big thing. Whether that will happen or not, doesn’t matter for the importance of understandable, readable content. Google simply dictates the search results and the algorithm. We just have to go with it. And in this case, it’s a good thing. Writing readable content is a blessing for the reader.

Read more: How to prepare for voice search »

Google’s algorithm becomes more human-like

Google has become much better at predicting what people want to read. The algorithm of Google is mimicking a human. It tries to read texts like a human being. As Google becomes more capable of understanding and scanning texts in a human-like way, the demands on the readability of texts also rise.

Google will, increasingly, assess the topic of a text the way humans assess the topic of a text. People scan through texts, read subheadings and the first sentences of paragraphs. People look for transition words in order to quickly abstract what the main conclusion of an article will be. All the things humans do while reading a text, are things Google will do. That means that the structure of your text, the way you write your paragraphs, will become increasingly important. Core sentences (the first sentence of every paragraph) will gain importance. Having a clear and logical structure in your text will be invaluable.

What will be the demands on readable content?

Understandable, readable content contains lots of transition words, as these words help people understand the connection between sentences. Content that’s easy to understand has short sentences and few difficult and long words. The structure of a text is very important. Core sentences will be the most important sentences in assessing the topic of an article or blog post. These will be demands copywriters will have to deal with. It might sound scary, but if you simply write a good text, you’ll please your readers and Google.

Keep reading: The ultimate guide to content SEO »

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26 Responses to Readability ranks!

  1. Mike Khorev
    Mike Khorev  • 1 year ago

    The thing is, that description of “meta description” wasn’t bad… So how do you define readable? It kind of sounds like you’re saying to “dumb it down”, and dumbing down the entire internet just to appease Google voice search sounds like a horrible idea.

    Maybe we should have some sort of new meta tag for voice search results or something.

  2. Abdul
    Abdul  • 1 year ago

    Amazing Post, Google is improving daily and is being more human-like as voice search is growing.
    Thanks for Sharing!

  3. matlabi
    matlabi  • 1 year ago

    Great post. It’s definitely true, I’ve noticed ranking increases from improving the readability of website content. I’ve also noticed improvements when I used a screen reader to ensure the content reads well for people with visual impairment too.

  4. Marcus Ledlin
    Marcus Ledlin  • 1 year ago

    A really great post! I’ve always wondered if readability acttttually made a difference!!

  5. Lailasblog
    Lailasblog  • 1 year ago

    i strongly believe that readabilty will always rank when it comes to google serps.
    nice article

  6. Kodi
    Kodi  • 1 year ago

    Howdy Marieke,
    Thanks for sharing this useful article on readability ranks… Surely recommend to all who are at beginning level of content creation world!

    Keep up the awesome work!

    • Marieke van de Rakt

      thank you!

  7. Daniel Charles
    Daniel Charles  • 1 year ago

    Great post. It’s definitely true, I’ve noticed ranking increases from improving the readability of website content. I’ve also noticed improvements when I used a screen reader to ensure the content reads well for people with visual impairment too.

  8. Taisa-Designer
    Taisa-Designer  • 1 year ago

    Great post. I think that seeing voice search as the future of search makes sense. But I do think internet will have to addapt. Voice search is interesting for short things. Like when was Albert Einstein born? Or who plays the main character in that movie? So I do not want a full article or even a paragraph. I just want my answer quick and short. So or Google learns so much so it can extract this information from the results, or another type of content should appear, something as a “FAQ” that Google can understand and use each question separately. So each web site could have its FAQ section and fight to have the questions people could look for and the bests answers for this. We will see how all that developes. :)

    • Marieke van de Rakt

      I agree. Voice search has just started out. We have to monitor to see how the results of voice search change over time. And how people interact with it. We’ve got Google Homes in many of our offices now, people are starting to interact with them. It’s fun, but for me, it’s much easier to just type a query in Google on my desktop. We’ll have to see how voice search will evolve!

  9. Neil Harris
    Neil Harris  • 1 year ago

    Wow, this makes a lot of sense. I have seen a few new directory sites where the listing pages read like informative articles rather than just listing a bunch of businesses. Maybe they are going after the readability algorithm. From a human perspective, I found these sites quite compelling to read also. Thanks for the article.

  10. Susie Norris
    Susie Norris  • 1 year ago

    Hi. I’ve been using Yoast for a good while now and have made many successful adaptions in my copy-writing. But as a professional grant writer/copywriter and former English teacher, I feel that the guidelines over-emphasize transition words and phrases. If I follow the suggested # of transition words or phrases, my copy is actually very weak. If a student handed it in to me as an essay, I might use the word “flabby”. Transitional phrases, while I understand their value in making connections in meaning, are inherently weak. Active verbs are much more important. Can you review the guidelines with this in mind?

    • Marieke van de Rakt

      I get your point. In the current state, the checks of transition words and the passive voice are equally important. I totally agree with you that active verbs should be more important. I am going to take this into consideration and discuss your comment with our linguists. We have talked before about the weight of different aspects of the readability score. That’s a hard topic (especially as we run these checks in multiple languages), but we’re going to have that discussion again. Thank you for your input!

  11. Mitch Rezman
    Mitch Rezman  • 1 year ago

    So why do I get “good readability” on a page with a table and gibberish and “poor readability” when I slug in a Pulitzer winning piece for testing?

    I’ve sent these examples to Yoast support but no one has responded.


    I use Google docs voice to text function – Google is far mar inaccurate than Dragon naturally speaking. With all the misspellings google makes I can’t see how accurate voice search can be

    • Marieke van de Rakt

      A pullitzer price winning piece is probably beautifully written. However, these texts tend to be difficult as well. We’ve decided to focus our analysis on the average internet user, with an average IQ. I assume Google will probably do the same. For some audiences, our readability analysis will not suffice. If you want to read more about the choices we’ve made in developing our analysis, I would advice you to read the following article:

  12. Walter
    Walter  • 1 year ago

    Yoast is great but their readability scale is useless for some industries that just have inelastic language. I optimize and write for corporate law and nearly all legal content pages are “red” for readability (All green for SEO, of course). It’s hard to get them green without sacrificing the professional tone, especially with passive voice which is industry standard. No professional wants to sound aggressive with active voice regarding their clients and cases…sounds like assigning blame when trying to be neutral.

    I thought it was just me, but recently I was working with an experienced web developer working for variety of professional business websites and after helping me with some code he saw yoast on the back end and pointed the red lights for readability. He said “don’t you just hate that? Here, let me show you a trick” and turned off readability from the settings. Speaking with others about it I came to find out most content writers, SEO gurus, and Web Devs for Business or scholarly writing just turn it off. An agency colleague said “I don’t know what it wants to make it green, I don’t write for 5 yearlds”

    It’s probably great for a personal blog or for social media “shareability” but not for professional industries. This is a shame and the premium paid version should have an option for “professional tone,” or “business” readability.

    • Kim
      Kim  • 1 year ago

      I second Walter’s points regarding professional industries. I work for an actuarial consulting firm dealing with retirement plan compliance. Considering our content deals with topics such as nondiscrimination compliance testing and required minimum distribution guidelines, I consistently see red flags. It’s good to know I can turn off that feature but like to see a “professional services” category added.

    • Marieke van de Rakt

      I totally get your point. For some industries passive voice is somewhat standard. I used to work as an academic researcher, passive voice is really common there too (didn’t use it, though, I’m a maverick).

      This is the reason why we’ve made the possibility to turn the readability analysis off. I get that some people write for a less than average public and get annoyed by the green bullets.

      We’ve talked about making changes in the readability analysis before. You made some useful pointers. We’re currently re-assessing our SEO analysis and we’re really busy with Gutenberg. But after that, we should think about your suggestions. Thank you so much.

  13. Suresh Dubey
    Suresh Dubey  • 1 year ago

    Great article Marieke.
    It’s a very useful article specially for the beginners in the world of blogging (like me :) )

  14. Pereira
    Pereira  • 1 year ago

    I am fully convinced that a pleasant and easy to understand writing is an important factor for a good ranking in the search engines.
    Since I started to pay more attention to this issue the traffic to my blog has grown a lot.

  15. andrea5
    andrea5  • 1 year ago

    Hi, thank you for your article. What about Google Voice Search with languages different from English? How is the situation evolving?

  16. Kaffah ID
    Kaffah ID  • 1 year ago

    In essence, Readability improves the user experience. Readers more easily understand the content we provide.
    This is my opinion.

  17. Anuj
    Anuj  • 1 year ago

    As you have mentioned, I am pretty much convinced that Google wants voice search to become the next big thing which is relatively easy and fast. When it comes to voice search results, readability matters a lot. Thanks for sharing the information.

  18. download
    download  • 1 year ago

    Readability IMO should now be a ranking factor because most ranking websites dont even optimize the readability of their websits.

  19. WWE Hindi
    WWE Hindi  • 1 year ago

    I think you are right becuase If I am write fully improved readability so my articles rank high compare to my other articles.

  20. maya
    maya  • 1 year ago

    Your observation is absolutely right. We can see enhancement in Google search results everyday; which is strongly suggests that now Google wants to display really useful information in a very user friendly way. Off course readability will be a very important factor in coming days.

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